Look, we're not about to knock a family movie that offers wholesome entertainment, the smartest menagerie in cartoon history, and Michael Jordan--as gorgeous a figure in movie closeup as he is on the basketball court. Well, maybe a little knock: Space Jam, the first feature with all new footage of Bugs, Daffy and other Looney Tunes immortals, is on the wan and sanctimonious side--less a good movie than a safe place to park the kids on a mall afternoon.
In plot, Space Jam is akin to the new Star Trek picture: evil aliens (here the Nerdlucks) try to steal the souls (the talent) of the galaxy's most complex life forms (NBA stars Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and token white geek Shawn Bradley). If Jordan doesn't renounce his infatuation with baseball and agree to play a basketball game against the aliens' Monstar team, civilization will be imperiled. Not to mention some very fat Nike contracts.
There are the requisite inside jokes involving butt kissing (Daffy plants a smooch on his own ducktail, to which the WB logo has been affixed) and Disney dissing (when Daffy suggests that the good guys' squad should be called the Ducks, Bugs ripostes, "What kind of a Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the Ducks?"). Bill Murray is on hand for a brief master display of slapdash comedy. But director Joe Pytka, who also did the McDonald's TV spot that cued the film, too often stands slack-jawed before the wonder, the grace, the supernal niceness of his live-action star. The movie could have been a gleaming showcase for cartoon wit. Instead it's an 87-minute commercial peddling sainthood for Michael Jordan. --R.C.